Species: Citellus erythrogenys Brandt, 1841 = Red-cheeked Gopher
Red-cheeked Gopher = Citellus (= Spermophilus) erythrogenys
An absolutely remarkable representative of terrestrial squirrels (body length up to 28 cm, tail - up to 6.5 cm). It got its name due to the presence of large bright red spots under the eyes. A wintering nornik, an inhabitant of open grassy places. It inhabits the feather grass steppes from the Irtysh to Kuzbass, in the north it enters the mixed grass steppe and birch forest-steppe, in the east - in the foothill steppes of Altai and the Kuznetsk Alatau. It lives in colonies, but each animal has a separate hole and its own plot of land. Burrows of a typical gopher building, with inclined and vertical passages, up to 3.5 m deep. Active during the day. It feeds on cereals, herbs, sometimes insects. Noticing the danger, it becomes a column at the hole and gives a loud alarm (in most species - a sharp whistle). Gophers, who are at that moment far from the shelters, first run into their burrows, and already from there shout. A sleeping gopher cannot wake up quickly and is completely defenseless against enemies that penetrated its hole through an earthen jam. In this case, the animal becomes "canned meat" for a more successful animal. She suffers from plague and in some places is its main carrier in nature. It harms crops.
Siberian Zoological Museum (http://www.zooclub.ru/mouse/belich/25.shtml)
Red-cheeked Gopher: Gopher of medium size. Body length 235-260 mm, tail 41-59 mm. The color of the back is from brownish-ocher to gray-ocher, with well-defined ripples or mottling. The top of the head is the same color with the back. The sides are rusty yellowish. Above the eye and below it are two broad chestnut-brown spots. Tail with a weakly pronounced apical stripe or without it at all.
Distributed in the south of Western Siberia, in Kazakhstan.
The inhabitant of the steppes and semi-deserts, in the north comes into the forest-steppe, in the southeast - into the mountain steppe. Most often settles on pastures, roadsides, virgin areas near crops and even on highly saline lands. On arable land is rare.
The food is mainly steppe cereals, their flowers, leaves, stems.
Burrows are simple in structure, but relatively deep (up to 350 cm). the nest is made of soft, dry herbs. Awakening from hibernation in late March to April. Shortly after this, the mating period begins. The brood averages seven to nine cubs. Hibernates in August - the first half of September.
Red-cheeked Gopher (Spermophilus erythrogenys)- An inhabitant of the dry steppes and semi-deserts of eastern Kazakhstan, the south of western Siberia, the extreme northwest of China. It is very close to reddish, at the junction of their ranges hybrid individuals are found. The animal owes its name to sharply marked red spots on the cheeks; for other signs, it occupies an intermediate position between the small and reddish ground squirrels.
This gopher in comparison with the reddish one is more dry-loving. In the south of the range, it settles in gravelly semi-deserts, and in the north, where the climate is more humid, it settles on pastures, cattle paths, along roadsides where vegetation is more beaten out. Permanent burrows go underground more than 2 meters, the total length of the moves is up to 4-5 meters. In the steppe regions, the red-cheeked gopher hibernates only for the winter, and in the south there is also a summer gopher, in some especially dry years, animals are not shown from burrows in the autumn. Thus, the active period of life in other years does not exceed 3 months of spring and early summer, which are just enough for the reproduction and accumulation of fat for hibernation. This gopher, on a par with small, is one of the serious pests of pasture and grain crops. A natural carrier of tick-borne encephalitis, toxoplasmosis and tularemia, and abroad - the plague.
Gophers lifestyle in nature
Unlike squirrels, the inhabitants of a shady solid forest, small, nimble, similar in color to scorched soil, ground squirrels are typical of a steppe open to sunlight. They are also found in low grass meadows, in treeless mountains, along the outskirts of fields. They prefer open and dry places with sparse grass, where it is easier for careful animals to notice the danger in time. Avoid forests, places covered with shrubs or weeds, as well as wetlands. For their homes they try to choose high places.
The gopher is known for its habit of standing up in a column; this is a peculiar act of research. Pictured is a gopher overlooking the surroundings.
Gophers lead a semi-underground lifestyle and, at the slightest danger, hide in holes that, like natural-born mole rats, dig themselves. Sometimes the depth of the hole can reach three meters, and the length is about 15 meters! Often there are many branches in burrows. At the end of their home, the animals equip themselves with a place to rest from leaves and dry grass.
Animals live alone or in colonies. Each adult has its own separate hole and its own individual small territory.
In the burrow, the gopher spends the night and rests for several more hours during the day. In the morning, the animal leaves the hole only when the dew evaporates. With sunset the sun goes off into the hole for the night.
Nora serves as a gopher and a refuge from enemies, which the rodent abounds in: hawks, eagles, snakes, lynxes, raccoons, coyotes, wolves, foxes, badgers. However, numerous underground passages, natural caution and dexterity, often allow you to leave your pursuers with the nose. But the steppe polecat and bandaging represent a great danger to the animal, which, thanks to their long and narrow body, can make their way directly into the rodent's hole.
Each gopher knows its hole well, but sometimes, escaping from the enemy, the rodent hurries to hide in a strange hole. In this case, the owner zealously defends his home: first he quickly hits the uninvited guest with his front paws in the face, as if giving a slap in the face, then begins to gnaw at the stranger and thus forces him to retire. However, such meetings are not frequent.
Like many rodents similar in appearance and way of life, rodents, among which the most famous are the marmots - the larger and more sociable inhabitants of the steppes, and the hamsters - the smaller and brighter colored rodents of the temperate zone, the gophers spend the winter in a state of prolonged sleep without food and movement, spending reserves of fat accumulated since the fall. In hibernation, all life processes slow down: the heart beats more slowly, breathing less often, and body temperature drops. Only with the arrival of heat in the spring does the ground squirrel come to life and eat.
It is believed that the gopher's sleep during hibernation is the strongest. The animal can even be taken out of the hole, slow down as you like, and he will not wake up. At the same time, American scientists found that the animal wakes up with an excessive decrease in air temperature (to -26 ° C).
Some species can also hibernate in the summer. This is probably due to arid conditions in the spring, which caused extremely early burnout of the vegetation, and as a result, the animals are not fed enough.
Under natural conditions, the gopher rarely lives for more than three to four years.
Depending on climatic conditions and species, gophers wake up from hibernation in February, March or April. After a long winter sleep, the animals lose much weight, they are weak, but very soon they are thinking about procreation - they start a race. At this time, you can see how the males tirelessly chase the females and fight with rivals. Pregnancy in the female lasts about a month, in the litter there are from 2 to 12 cubs (usually 6-8). Babies are born naked and blind and are fed breast milk for 1.5-2 months, and they are ready for independent life by the age of three months.
As scientists have found out, among animals, gophers have the most difficult language of communication. In addition to whistling and whispering, animals communicate with each other by ultrasonic signals. Sometimes they whistle loudly, and sometimes they hiss and wheeze. But wheezing is a small part of the signal that a person or any beast is able to hear. Most of the signal travels at ultrasonic frequencies.
With their “conversation” with different tonality, rhythm and timbre, animals can even accurately describe the approaching predator, its appearance, size and structure, and tell how far the danger is.
What does the ground squirrel eat?
The diet of ground squirrels is predominantly plants, however, in cases of shortage, they feed on insects, most often grasshoppers, as well as various bugs, locusts, caterpillars. Sometimes gophers attack even field mice and small birds. Plant food of animals consists mainly of young shoots, stems and leaves, as well as seeds. The species composition of plants eaten by animals is diverse: knotweed, yarrow, sweet clover, stinging nettle, various cereals, etc. Rodents usually feed on food within the same territory, which they diligently mark.
Types of gophers living in Russia, photos and description
The genus of gophers has a total of 38 species. In Russia, in the open territories from deserts to the Arctic Circle, 9 of them live: yellow, or sandstone, reddish, or large, small, speckled, Daurian, Caucasian, long-tailed, Beringian and Krasnoshchek. All of them are different in size and color of the fur.
Yellow ground squirrel (sandstone) (Spermophilus fulvus Lichtenstein)
Yellow ground squirrel mainly lives in deserts and semi-deserts, however it is also found in the dry steppes of the Lower Volga. Among his brethren, he stands out, first of all, for sizes approaching the size of small species of groundhogs (the length of his body can reach 38 cm), and in appearance he is also similar to groundhogs. It differs from a large gopher with a uniform fur color of sandy-yellow tones with dark tan.
The yellow gopher is the most fearful of the entire genus Spermophilus. Before climbing out of the hole, he protrudes his head to eye level and, being in this position for quite some time, examining the district. While feeding, he constantly looks around. In tall grass, he eats a column, but if the vegetation is low, feeds sitting or even lying, clinging to the ground with his whole body. Perhaps the reason for such alertness is a solitary lifestyle, in which the animal is forced to independently take care of its safety. Each individual occupies a small (up to 0.1 ha) plot, which zealously guards against the invasion of relatives. If the threat does not affect the stranger, teeth are used.
Hibernation in this species is one of the longest among all terrestrial squirrels - 8-9 months.
Reddish, or large gopher (S. major Pallas)
The large gopher is found in the forbs and grasses and forbs of the steppes from the middle Volga to the Irtysh. In size, the reddish gopher is second only to yellow, the length of its body can reach 33 cm, the tail - 6-10 cm.
The color of the back of the animal is dark, buffy-brown, with an unclear whitish-rust spot, the abdomen is grayish-yellow. The top of the head is silver gray, different from the color of the front of the back. On cheeks and above eyes distinct spots of red or brown color stand out.
From other species, the reddish gopher is more mobile: in search of food from its hole, this rodent can move two hundred meters away, and if the vegetation dries, it moves to richer places for food.
Big gophers can even cross wide rivers!
Lesser Gopher (S. pygmaeus Pallas)
Small gopher lives in the steppes from the Volga region, Dnieper and the Caucasus Mountains, to the coast of the Black, Azov and Caspian Seas. This is one of the smallest species, the length of its body does not exceed 24 cm, the tail is not more than 4 cm. Coloring is inconspicuous - gray or brownish, usually with a predominance of ocher tones.
Caucasian gopher (S. musicus Menetries)
Caucasian (mountain) ground squirrel is found in Elbrus region, in alpine meadows and pastures. The settlements of this rodent can be at an altitude of 1000 to 3200 m above sea level.
It looks like a small gopher. The length of his body is up to 24 cm, tail - 4-5 cm. This species is peace-loving: it is characterized by the absence of individual food sites. The animals guard only their permanent burrows, and the food areas are shared.
Speckled ground squirrel (S. suslicus guldenstaedt)
The speckled ground squirrel is one of the smallest representatives of this genus: body length - 17–26 cm, tail - 3-5 cm. It is widespread in the steppes and forest-steppes of the East European Plain from the Danube to the Volga. Favorite habitats are elevated areas of the virgin steppe, pastures and pastures. Lives in colonies.
Like most daytime steppe and desert rodents, speckled ground squirrels during dry hot periods are active in the mornings and evenings. Animals do not like moist soil, therefore, in the morning they leave the holes only after the dew has completely dried, and in rainy weather they do not appear at all on the surface. Spends in hibernation from 4 to 8 months a year, depending on the habitat and weather conditions.
Today, speckled ground squirrel is a rare beast listed in the Red Book of Bryansk and other areas. Once these animals were many, they even fought with them, as with agricultural pests. But in recent years, the area of territories suitable for rodent habitation has sharply decreased. On the map, their habitat from a continuous strip has turned into rare islands, and they are becoming smaller.
Daurian Gopher (S. dauricus Brandt)
Daurian, or as it is also called, Transbaikal gopher, lives in the dry steppes of the Transbaikal Territory, as well as in Eastern Mongolia and Northeast China. Often found on hillsides, pastures, along roadsides, along railway embankments, and even in vegetable gardens.
This is a relatively small species: its body is 17.5-23 cm long, its tail 4-6.5 cm long. The back of the Transbaikal gopher is light, sandy gray with a light rusty tint, the abdomen is yellowish yellow, the sides are yellowish gray.
Colonies usually do not form, but live alone.
Long-Tailed Gopher (S. undulatus Pallas)
Distributed in the Eastern Tien Shan, in Central and Western Mongolia, in the south of Central Siberia, Altai, in the mountains of Transbaikalia, in Central Yakutia. Habitats of this species are diverse, found in dry steppes and forest-steppes, in open landscapes of deserts and mountains.
Long-tailed gopher - a rather large species, body length up to 31 cm. A distinctive feature of this species is a fluffy and long tail (more than 16 cm).
The color of the back is from ocher-brown to grayish-fawn, on the sides the rusty color becomes more intense, the head is slightly darker. On the back, gray or whitish specks are clearly visible.
This gopher hibernates later than other species, sometimes after snow has already fallen.
Bering Gopher (S. parryi Richardson)
The Bering gopher (also called the Arctic, American and American long-tailed gopher) lives in Eurasia and North America. In our country, it is found in Chukotka, Kamchatka, in North-East Siberia. It settles in open landscapes - meadow and steppe areas, on any elevations of the relief, often found on the outskirts of villages.
This is one of the largest species: the body length of the Chukchi specimens is 25-32 cm, the American ones are even larger - their body length reaches 40 cm. The tail of the animals is long and fluffy. The back is brownish-buffy with a distinct pattern of large bright spots, the head is brownish-rusty.
An important role in the nutrition of this species is played by animal feed (ground beetles, caterpillars, etc.). Features of the diet due to the cold climate.
Red-cheeked Gopher (S. erythrogenys Brandt)
It lives in the south of the Ural and West Siberian regions, also found in Mongolia.
This is a medium-sized rodent, its body length does not exceed 28 cm. The tail is shorter than that of relatives - 4-6 cm. It got its name because of the characteristic brown or red spots on the cheeks. The back of the animal is sandy yellow with black-brown ripples, the abdomen is darker, the sides are rusty-yellowish. There is a white spot on the chin.The tail is without a black tip, dark below.
This species lives in colonies, but each adult animal has a separate hole and its own small territory.
From struggle to protection
Gophers are a group of rodents with which a person has been intensively and inventively fighting for a long time, as with pests of crops and carriers of dangerous focal infections (plague, tularemia, etc.). It is these features, as well as the habitat of many species in anthropogenic landscapes, that served as the basis for conflict with humans. Agricultural protection and medical services have dealt with and continue to deal with the issues of restricting the number of rodents, using acute poisoning against these rodents.
When considering the genus Spermophilus, most of whose species have been the object of extermination for many years, one cannot but note their role in the natural community. Thus, a complex system of holes provides the possibility of the existence of a huge number of diverse organisms. For example, in the burrows of a small gopher there lives neither more nor less - 12 thousand different species of animals of different systematic groups. It is also known that with the disappearance of ground squirrels, the number of terrestrial predators and birds of prey is significantly reduced (light ferret, steppe kestrel, saker, saker, burial eagle, etc.)
Along with the direct destruction of ground squirrels, there is a process of reduction and transformation of their natural habitats due to the plowing and development of suburban areas and climatic changes.
Recently, the issue of protecting a number of representatives of this family has been increasingly raised. Today, Red-cheeked, speckled, yellow, reddish and Daurian gophers are listed in the Red Book of the Russian Federation and / or in the regional Red Books.
The ambiguity of this issue is that nature conservation experts offer gopher conservation measures, while medical and agricultural protection services continue to reduce the number of animals in order to ensure the epidemiological welfare of the population and reduce crop losses.
Gopher as a pet
In truth, gophers are not very suitable for keeping at home. Despite the fact that life in natural conditions is full of dangers, it is unlikely that this loving steppe expanse of a brisk animal will be pleased with the prospect of settling in a cage or even a spacious aviary. A gopher is not a guinea pig or chinchilla, which adapt perfectly to life in captivity and get used to a person, the element of a gopher is space and freedom, but it will never become manual, alas ...
But still there are such lovers of home exoticism who are trying to tame these creatures. It should be noted here that the apartments are completely unsuitable for keeping gophers - they will not live here for a long time, since it is difficult to create acceptable conditions for them. In addition, the animals will mark the territory, and the smell of their secretions, to put it mildly, is quite specific.
It is permissible to keep gophers in enclosures in the courtyard of a private house, where animals can provide their needs - dig tunnels, run, jump and jump. For a pair of ground squirrels, an enclosure with a size of at least 150 × 150 cm is needed. Inside the gopher's dwelling houses are placed, boxes, pipe trunks - for sheltering animals, logs - for grinding cutters. On the eve of hibernation (in late August - early September), rodents are given material for bedding - straw, hay, leaves, so that the pets prepare a place for winter hibernation. The same enclosure is completely covered with the same materials. Gophers are kept one at a time for hibernation.
The basis of the gopher's diet is grain mixtures, oats, wheat, barley, sunflower seeds, corn, ready-made food for rodents. They give vegetables - carrots, beets, zucchini, cucumbers, and fruits - bananas, pears, apples, as well as green food - head salad, alfalfa, leaves of dandelion, plantain, clover, etc. From time to time, the diet is varied with protein foods (flour worms, crickets, grasshoppers). Pet feed 2 times a day.
You can not give gopher food from a person’s table, as well as cabbage, chestnuts, acorns, oak branches. There should always be fresh water in the drinker.